Jews will be able to perform a sacred ritual of the Jewish new year festival after the NSW Health Minister granted believers an exemption to the state’s public health orders.

Josh Dye
The Sydney Morning Herald

Brad Hazzard has given permission for rabbis to blow the shofar – a ram’s horn – outdoors during the Rosh Hashanah celebrations on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birth of humanity and usually involves synagogue services, prayer and food. A key element is the blowing of the shofar, which is a Jewish call for repentance.

Rabbi Paul Lewin from the North Shore Synagogue in Lindfield said the festivities would look different to usual due to the lockdown restrictions on gatherings and movement.

“It’s a real family affair to go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. It will be really missed this year,” he said. “There’s joy for the festival but certainly a pang of sadness we can’t celebrate it in its full glory.”

Orthodox Jews face extra challenges to celebrate remotely because of their strict adherence to Sabbath conditions that includes no technology.

“From sundown, all our mobile phones are off, computers are off, the TV is off,” Rabbi Lewin said. “One of the biggest problems we have is we can’t livestream services. My synagogue is going to have a Zoom an hour before the start of Rosh Hashanah, so we all bring in the holiday together.”

Many synagogues in Sydney have also organised take-home packs for congregants consisting of honey, apples and booklets of sermons.

The celebrations last for two days – from sunset on Monday until sunset on Wednesday and one of the key rituals is the sounding of the shofar.

Only a rabbi can blow the horn, so it’s the only ritual that believers can’t perform at home on their own. The exemption will allow rabbis to sound the shofar on Tuesday and Wednesday at parks across the state.

Rabbi Benjamin Elton from the Great Synagogue in Sydney’s CBD said the exemption was a “great relief”. He will be blowing the shofar at Hyde Park in the mornings and Rushcutters Bay in the afternoons.

“We expect people will naturally distribute themselves across all the [time] slots, so it won’t be too crowded on any one occasion,” he said.

The conditions of the health exemption are that rabbis can blow the horn only in 10-minute increments for up to three hours each day. Under Jewish tradition, there is no requirement for followers to hear the horn at a particular decibel level or length of time, so they can simply walk through the park as part of their daily exercise.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Darren Bark said he was grateful the horn-sounding ritual could proceed.

“The community appreciates the co-operation of NSW Health and its work with the community to have very strict conditions that allow this to occur with negligible risk,” he said.

“With synagogues closed, limits on gatherings and restrictions on travel, this year’s Jewish High Holy Days will look unlike anything we have seen before. Many families will be unable to celebrate together as they have for generations. But we are together in spirit, even if physically apart.”